Peter Gordon Martin was born in 1947 at Owen Sound
in Ontario. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in 1968 and his master’s degree in 1969. Three years later, in 1972, he received his doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge in England, and then returned to the University of Toronto to take a post as professor.

SimulationMartin’s doctoral research focused on the study of interstellar matter – gas molecules and grains of dust found between stars – which has remained his specialty throughout his career. He strives to understand its origin and its relationship to stars. To do this, he analyzes and interprets data gathered by telescopes on Earth and in space, and integrates these data into theoretical computer simulations.

During the first 15 years of his career, Martin concentrated mainly on interstellar dust. Subjected to the magnetic fields produced by various celestial objects, interstellar dust tends to align itself in space like a magnet. Any light passing through these particles likewise become aligned (the light becomes “polarized”), and by studying this light, it becomes Read More
Peter Gordon Martin was born in 1947 at Owen Sound
in Ontario. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in 1968 and his master’s degree in 1969. Three years later, in 1972, he received his doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge in England, and then returned to the University of Toronto to take a post as professor.

SimulationMartin’s doctoral research focused on the study of interstellar matter – gas molecules and grains of dust found between stars – which has remained his specialty throughout his career. He strives to understand its origin and its relationship to stars. To do this, he analyzes and interprets data gathered by telescopes on Earth and in space, and integrates these data into theoretical computer simulations.

During the first 15 years of his career, Martin concentrated mainly on interstellar dust. Subjected to the magnetic fields produced by various celestial objects, interstellar dust tends to align itself in space like a magnet. Any light passing through these particles likewise become aligned (the light becomes “polarized”), and by studying this light, it becomes possible to extract information about the composition and shape of the interstellar grains.

In 1984, Martin became the first person from the astronomy department at the University of Toronto to become a member of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.

Not long after, in 1987, he became interested in the collisions affecting hydrogen molecules of interstellar gas clouds where stars are born. His contributions in this field have repercussions for our understanding of how the first stars of the Universe came to be.

Martin used the Orion nebula as a case study in 1991 to examine the conditions within nebulas and other regions where interstellar matter is concentrated. The results of these studies have improved our understanding of the evolution of galaxies in the Universe.

The Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope.In 1995, he became a permanent member of the science committee that manages the Canadian Galactic Plane Survey, a project that aims to map a large portion (60 degrees) of our galaxial plane at several different wavelengths using a common resolution. Martin uses the collected data to study the formation of massive stars and the evolution of interstellar dust, as well as its influence on the ecology of our galaxy.

In 1999, Martin was named Director of the University of Toronto’s David Dunlap Observatory. He is currently involved in a number of international research projects, including the James Webb Space Telescope (the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope), the Herschel Space Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Planck space mission.

Martin received the Carlyle S. Beals Award in 1994 from the Astronomical Society of Canada in recognition of his research contributions.

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

Three dimensional computer illustration of collisions between hydrogen molecules

Computer simulation of collisions between hydrogen molecules by Peter G. Martin.

ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park


Colour photo of the Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope in space with the Earth in the distance

The Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

© NASA/JPL-Caltech


Colour video of Peter Gordon Martin talking in front of images of space

Peter Gordon Martin talks about interstellar dust.

When I was a graduate student, interstellar dust was thought to be largely icy; what one now thinks of as cometary material. But in fact, we found out in the meantime that dust is not that at all. It is more like rocks, silicates and small pieces of carbon, which you might characterize as soot. The other things that we discovered are that there is a wide range of particles sizes: they are not all one tenth of a micron in size. Some are as small as molecules; in fact, there is a borderline area in which you can think of them as very tiny dust grains or as very large molecules. Some of those large molecules are like small sheets of graphite with hydrogen attached to them: we call these polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and they can be found in terrestrial counterparts like mothballs, for example. Automobile soot is another good representation of a mix of these compounds.

ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park


Gilles Fontaine was born in 1948 at Lévis, near Quebec City. In 1969, he obtained his bachelor’s degree from Laval University in Quebec City, and his doctoral degree in 1974 from the University of Rochester in the state of New York. He then took a postdoctoral position at the University of Western Ontario in London, and in 1977 he became a professor at the University of Montreal.

Fontaine has specialized in the study of white dwarf stars since he first started his doctoral studies. A white dwarf forms when a star depletes its nuclear fuel. Deprived of this energy source, the star contracts and becomes much smaller, eventually dying as it slowly cools over several billion years.

When the temperature of a white dwarf’s surface attains approximately 12,000 EC, the star begins to pulsate, causing variations in its luminosity. Asteroseismologists – scientist who study the vibrations of stars – can measure these changes in intensity with an instrument known as a photometer.

There is a great interest for studying stellar vibrations because they allow scientists to obtain information about the internal structure of a star, and thus Read More
Gilles Fontaine was born in 1948 at Lévis, near Quebec City. In 1969, he obtained his bachelor’s degree from Laval University in Quebec City, and his doctoral degree in 1974 from the University of Rochester in the state of New York. He then took a postdoctoral position at the University of Western Ontario in London, and in 1977 he became a professor at the University of Montreal.

Fontaine has specialized in the study of white dwarf stars since he first started his doctoral studies. A white dwarf forms when a star depletes its nuclear fuel. Deprived of this energy source, the star contracts and becomes much smaller, eventually dying as it slowly cools over several billion years.

When the temperature of a white dwarf’s surface attains approximately 12,000 EC, the star begins to pulsate, causing variations in its luminosity. Asteroseismologists – scientist who study the vibrations of stars – can measure these changes in intensity with an instrument known as a photometer.

There is a great interest for studying stellar vibrations because they allow scientists to obtain information about the internal structure of a star, and thus about its size, mass and composition. It is analogous to seismology, in which geophysicists study earthquakes as a means to probe the internal structure of the Earth.

In 1981, Fontaine started up a research group that specialized in white dwarf asteroseismology, and his team would quickly become a hot topic in the media around the world. In 1982, only one year after forming, the team used mathematical models to predict the existence of a new type of pulsating star: the DB-type white dwarf. That same year, their prediction was confirmed by telescopic observations of a DB white dwarf. It was a first in astrophysics because, up to that point, new star types were discovered before being theoretically predicted.

In 1987, Fontaine and his collaborators had the idea to determine the age of the Universe using white dwarfs. Since white dwarfs are very old stars nearing the end of their life, to determine their age would effectively estimate the age of the galaxy and – in the bigger picture – that of the Universe.

In order to accomplish this goal, Fontaine designed numerical simulation models that weighted several parameters for a given star – such as mass, temperature and luminosity – and calculated the time that it would take for the white dwarf to cool. The age obtained for the Universe using this approach was 10 billion 300 million years. Recent re-analysis of cosmic background radiation has put this age at 13 billion 700 million years.

In 1990, Fontaine published the first results within the framework of the Montréal-Cambridge-Tololo Project, which he helped develop. The main goal of the project was the systematic exploration of white dwarfs in the southern hemisphere.

That same year, he also published the first results from the Whole Earth Telescope (WET) project he helped developed. WET is a network of telescopes positioned along different longitudes around the globe that can collectively provide uninterrupted observation of pulsating white dwarfs.

In 1996, Fontaine and his team once again theoretically predicted the existence of a new type of star, a B-type white subdwarf, and astronomers once again confirmed its existence, this time at the South African Astronomical Observatory in 1997. In the years since, Fontaine and his collaborators have continued to predict other types of stars.

Fontaine received numerous distinctions for his work, including being elected as a member of the Royal Society of Canada. Asteroid 4230 is named in his honour.

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

Colour photo with White Dwarfs circled to compare their size with the other stars in the cluster

White dwarfs (circles) visible in globular cluster M4.

Harvey Richer (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)/NASA

© Harvey Richer (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)/NASA


Colour video of Gilles Fontaine in front of images of space

Gilles Fontaine explains what asteroseismology is.

Asteroseismology is the study of vibrations in stars. Some stars – a small fraction of them – vibrate, or oscillate. It’s the equivalent of an earthquake. The name “asteroseismology” comes from this analogy with “terrestrial seismology”: the study of earthquakes. The idea is to use the same mathematical tools as geophysicists, but to probe the inside of stars instead.

ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park


John Richard Bond was born in 1950 in Toronto. In 1973, he obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto and enrolled at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1974. He received his master’s degree in 1975 and his doctoral degree in 1979. His thesis supervisor was William Alfred Fowler, recipient of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Bond was a postdoctoral researcher from 1978 to 1981 at the University of California in Berkeley, and then from 1982 to 1983 at the University of Cambridge in England. He was a professor at Stanford University in California from 1981 to 1987 and then moved to Canada in 1985 to accept a post as professor at the University of Toronto. He became a member of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and helped establish the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.

Bond specializes in the study of the structure of the Universe. His early studies focused on supernova explosions, neutron stars, and neutrinos. He also is interested in knowing whether the Universe consists primarily of the leftovers of stars, or of massive elementary particles.

In 1980, he began to demonstrate ( Read More
John Richard Bond was born in 1950 in Toronto. In 1973, he obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto and enrolled at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1974. He received his master’s degree in 1975 and his doctoral degree in 1979. His thesis supervisor was William Alfred Fowler, recipient of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Bond was a postdoctoral researcher from 1978 to 1981 at the University of California in Berkeley, and then from 1982 to 1983 at the University of Cambridge in England. He was a professor at Stanford University in California from 1981 to 1987 and then moved to Canada in 1985 to accept a post as professor at the University of Toronto. He became a member of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and helped establish the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.

Bond specializes in the study of the structure of the Universe. His early studies focused on supernova explosions, neutron stars, and neutrinos. He also is interested in knowing whether the Universe consists primarily of the leftovers of stars, or of massive elementary particles.

In 1980, he began to demonstrate (mainly in collaboration with George Efstathiou) that slight variations in the cosmic background radiation contain precious information regarding the shape, size, age and composition of the Universe. The cosmic background radiation is light energy that was emitted several hundred thousand years after the birth of the Universe when the first atoms formed.

The COBE space satellite.During the 1980’s, very few researchers believed that it would be possible to detect variations in the cosmic background radiation due to its incredibly old age of 14 billion years. However, in 1991, the COBE satellite (COsmic Background Explorer) did indeed reveal slight variations.

Encouraged by these results, Bond continued to develop many sophisticated mathematical tools during the 1990’s in order to study these variations. He published many significant articles that established new rigorous standards in various disciplines or created entirely new research domains.

Bond’s studies were so numerous between 1981 and 1997 that he was the most cited Canadian astronomer in specialized journals during that time (more than 3,000 citations). In 1996, he was named Director of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.

Launch of one of the Boomerang missions.In 1998, the first Boomerang mission was launched above the Antarctic. It consisted of a balloon that carried a 1.20-metre telescope (named Boomerang) to an altitude of 35 kilometres to avoid the terrestrial atmosphere that would interfere with its instruments. The data was used to draw up a new map of the cosmic background radiation. In 2000, Bond and several colleagues used the Boomerang results to demonstrate that the Universe has a planar geometry and to confirm that it is expanding.

In 2001, Bond became director of research programs at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Today, he tries to understand the cause of the accelerated expansion of the Universe, which is to understand the very nature of dark energy that Einstein first introduced in his theories as “the cosmological constant”.

It is proposed that dark energy is a repulsive force that counterbalances and may exceed the braking force of gravity; it is the force that attempts to push the expansion of the Universe to infinity. According to Bond, it is possible that some small trace – some evidence – of the existence of dark energy could be found in the cosmic background radiation.

Bond received (and continues to receive) numerous national and international awards for his work, including being elected as a member to the Royal Society of Canada.

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

Colour photo of the COBE space satellite over the earth

The COBE space satellite.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

© NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


Colour photo of the launch of one of the Boomerang missions in the arctic

Launch of one of the Boomerang missions.

Group Boomerang

© Group Boomerang


Colour video of John Richard Bond talking in front of images of space

John Richard Bond explains the purpose of astronomy

A theoretical cosmologist is someone who asks deep questions, beginning with the earliest moments of the Universe, by using the laws of physics or trying to discover new laws of physics that are encoded in the information we can get from either the early or later Universe. The major aspect of a theoretical astrophysicist is that he or she is a blend of mathematician, physicist, and possibly chemist, and one applies all of those tools to try and understand the nature of the cosmos. Because there has been so much data that has been gathered, and because we are asking questions that can best be probed by various ambitious experiments, theoretical cosmologists are increasingly involved in the analysis of the information coming from space or from telescopes. We are now becoming more of experimentalists as well as theoreticians, but the basic underlying feature is the use of mathematics, physics, and in aid of that, a heavy dose of computation.

ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • identify recent contributions, including Canada’s, to the development of space exploration technologies;
  • describe in detail the function of Canadian technologies involved in exploration of space;
  • draw a solar system with all its components;
  • establish the link between atoms and light using different instruments.

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